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I.A. Rehman on forced conversions – THE Hindu community, particularly in Sindh, has been in the grip of strong feelings of grief, anger and insecurity Unless its grievances are speedily addressed Pakistan stands to suffer incalculable harm in both material and moral terms

Unwelcome conversions

By I.A Rehman

THE Hindu community, particularly in Sindh, has been in the grip of strong feelings of grief, anger and insecurity for several weeks. Unless its grievances are speedily addressed Pakistan stands to suffer incalculable harm in both material and moral terms.

The issue of Hindu girls’ conversion to Islam and marriage to Muslim men, both transitions alleged to be forced and often after abduction, is not new. Indeed, it has always been high on the Hindu citizens’ list of complaints. What is new is the scale and intensity of their reaction and the large number of their appeals for justice. It seems three recent cases involving Rinkal Kumari, Lata Kumari and Aasha Kumari have unleashed the Hindu community’s long-brewing fears of loss of its religious and cultural identities.

The three cases are not identical in detail. Dr Murli Lal Karira, who belonged to Jacobabad and practised medicine at Suhbatpur, in Jafarabad district, was reported to have been abducted while travelling homeward. Some days later, his niece, Aasha Kumari Karira, who was taking lessons at a Jacobabad beauty parlour, did not return home after her work hours, and was believed to have been abducted. Her whereabouts are unknown.

Dr Lata Kumari, the 29-year old daughter of a medical practitioner from Jacobabad and employed at one of Karachi’s premier medical institutions, was reported to have married a young Muslim man after converting to Islam. Her father alleged that her conversion and marriage took place under coercion after abduction and he moved the high court for redress. The lady denies these allegations. She came to the court when her husband applied for bail before arrest.

The brother of Rinkal Kumari (18) says she was abducted by unknown persons, allegedly backed by an influential MNA. Her family had difficulty in filing an FIR. The next day she and the young man she was said to have married after conversion to Islam were presented in a court at Mirpur Mathelo, while her family had been told to go to a court in Ghotki. The family was not allowed to see her. It is said that she told the magistrate she wanted to go with her family but the latter reportedly expressed his inability to allow a Muslim girl to go to a non-Muslim house and sent her to a Darul Aman. Subsequently she is said to have modified her statement.

One suspects that these cases have provoked an unusual wave of protest because unlike the poor and voiceless victims in earlier cases of forced conversion-marriage affairs, the women now involved come of socially noteworthy families who have some access to electronic means of communication.

Several non-Muslim citizens have argued that these women have been, or are being, forced to accept conversion and marriage under threats of dire consequences to their families if they refuse to surrender.

The state of the common Hindu citizens’ mind is reflected in the e-mail Rinkal Kumari’s brother addressed to the chief justice of Pakistan (copied to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan). He says that Rinkal’s abductors have told her that “if she wants to save her parents’ life she should choose to convert [change] her religion and marry [an] unknown guy…. And yesterday [the] judge ordered that [the] girl wants to change her religion and want[s] to marry …Naveed…. [The] judge even didn’t allow [the] girl to meet … her parents or anybody from her family. There were 500-700 people in [the] courtroom all with guns and there was nobody from [the] girl’s family…. Now hundred[s] of people will take advantage of [the] 18-year-old girl and after that they will sell her to somebody”. Nobody with a reasonably sound heart will fail to be moved by the feelings of anguish and despair oozing from these words.

These cases raise several questions of a fundamental nature.

Continue reading I.A. Rehman on forced conversions – THE Hindu community, particularly in Sindh, has been in the grip of strong feelings of grief, anger and insecurity Unless its grievances are speedily addressed Pakistan stands to suffer incalculable harm in both material and moral terms